So France wants to know if we have TB. It wasn’t enough that we had the test on the arm~We have to go to the periphery of south Paris to a clinic to have an interview, an exam, an X-ray and then another exam, just to prove we don’t. My saving grace was Wade had to do this joy with me.
The Doctor is In
Now, as a rule-following first born, since the hosting government said I had to do this procedure for my long term visa, I would do it. But the more I thought of it, the more ridiculous it became, before I even stepped foot in the clinic. If I said it once, I said it a hundred times to the man who had no answers…”Why can’t we just do another arm bubble to prove we don’t have TB?”
“Why do we have to be exposed to (minute, I know) unnecessary radiation just to prove this when there are other ways?”
“Well, this is asinine. If I had TB, I have already infected the whole north west quadrant of Paris. What are they going to do?” Stupid, rhetorical questions because I know that this is what I have to do to hold up my end of the bargain, if you will. They host us for several years, we prove we don’t have TB. Sounds simple when I see it written.
So, with the fees paid ahead of time and the paperwork in hand, Wade and I head down to south Paris to the clinic. The last stop on the metro, through a construction site (no joke) and down a large boulevard. Fortunately we had a rendezvous, a pre-set appointment, as the line was long to get in. We are ushered to the counter, where the frantic lady, as opposed to the calm lady who didn’t help us, was screeching my name and some other incomprehensible French. I stood there smiling, interjecting the occasional “oui” to the smile plastered on my face. Then the guard brought us over to the packed waiting room. There were no two seats together, so we ventured toward one of the empty seats when someone slid over to let us both sit together. Very kind, just not keen to get on an extremely warm seat. Wade grabbed the (cool) one that was empty.
A cursory and judgmental glance around the crowded room showed me that we were instantly in a painting of God’s favorite colors. There were at least twenty other nationalities and cultures represented, all waiting for the same exams, the same stickers for our visas, the same weary eyes and apprehension on our faces. Different in our skin tones, backgrounds and languages and brought together by the bureaucracy of the country that has welcomed us all.
After fifteen minutes, my (pseudo French) moniker was called while Wade had to wait with the next batch of victims. I follow the line of immigrants, meandering through the lobby and down another corridor, going with no paperwork, and panic, wondering if they took the paperwork or if Wade still had it? How do I say that in French? Oh, Lordy, I hope they don’t take my blood pressure now as I am silently panicking. I sat in the designated seat and pulled out my Kindle, willing myself to breathe deeply and not worry when a woman came up to me and said, “I know you!” Okay…I have been taken as someone else pretty much my whole adult life. I am the doppelgänger to someone in Garmisch, Germany. I have a twin here in France. I look remarkably like someone’s best friend back in Texas. So when she said, “I know you!”, I figured this was just another one of those similarities. As it turned out, after going through the litany of possibilities, we figured it was church. Very funny that we should formally meet here at the free clinic, but stranger things have happened. We had a lovely albeit short conversation, in which I noticed her paperwork in her hand. Anxiety grew as I was trying to look like a worthy potential amigo. My kindling friendship was cut short as she was called and went through her exams and left, leaving me feeling perplexed and happy. I hope it really was church where she recognized me.
My name is finally called by the triage nurse, for lack of a better term. She went over the paperwork with me (thank God! There it was~the clinic had it the whole time!) and switched to English when I had the “deer in the headlights” look when she asked me about how long I have lived in France. Guess I need to really go back and work on that past tense thing. Anyway, she turned out to be a Chatty Cathy and told me that her son had been to America and visited a castle and took this flying thing to see the landscapes. I just smiled, having no idea what she was talking about…but of course she asked if I knew what it was called. Ummm…Was it the Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix? Was it something in the Hamptons in NY? She wasn’t sure so she (no kidding) excused herself while muttering “this has to be quick” and went back to her office to get her phone. I thought she was going to to show me a picture, but no~she pulled up Facebook and went through her new notifications (oh, my!) and found her son’s Facebook page and then scrolled through his pictures. Well apparently the trip to the US wasn’t as recent as I was thinking as she took a few minutes to hem, haw and cluck through his pictures. Finally, she finds a collage of his trip and there is the castle, the Cinderella castle, right in the middle. Are you serious? They have a EuroDisney in Paris~how did she not know? Since I couldn’t come up with any intellectual or even banal small talk while she was scrolling, I felt I needed to comment or something since she was so happy to show me my home country. “Oh! He went to Disney! Was your son in California or Florida?” Maybe my conversational skills have atrophied. I finished my time with her, only coming up with “Soaring Over the World”, the California Adventures ride as the answer to her description of a flying thing over the landscapes and views. Who was to say if I was right or wrong?
I went to the next section to wait for my first exam. The doctor came out about 5 minutes later, beckoning me into the exam room. He goes through the universal height, weight, blood pressure exam in French, me feeling proud I understood the commands to take off my shoes, stand here, go there. Even the blood titer was in French, although I thought a lot of the sanitary was lost when the doctor opened the enormous bandaid and had his thumb right on top of the cotton square that would cover my little blood prick. At least it wasn’t a gaping wound. He put the bandaid on, folding this ginormous tourniquet of flesh-like plastic over my poor pinky. Then came the eye exam. He picked up on my slight panic and asked what was wrong. I told him I needed to do that part in English. I certainly didn’t want to fail because I didn’t get the “e” and “I” correct. The French “I” is pronounced as a long e in English and just focusing on that would be enough to make me mess up the whole exam, I’m sure. So, he agreed I could do it in English. Then came the numbers (could do that in French!) and the quiz on the iPad. The doctor signed in, put the language to French, and then asked me in English about each of the cartoon pictures.
The first picture was a stick man holding a cigarette. The doctor asked me, “Is he smoking?” I don’t have to be Miss Literal all the time, but I felt like this was a trick question, and I really wanted to ace my foreigner exam. I said, “Well, it would appear he is smoking as he has a cigarette in his hand. If he isn’t smoking right now, he will be.” So then the doctor said, “It is yes or no. Is he smoking?” “Oui.” He glanced at me with a perplexed look and then went to the next picture. It was a stick man coughing or just after a sneeze, with flecks being projected from his mouth. The doctor asked me if he is coughing. I decided this was a “yes or no” question too, so I said, “Yes, he is coughing. Oui.” The doctor shook his head and came to the third picture. Almost the same as the second picture, it was of a stick figure projectile sneezing blood drops. “Is he coughing blood?” “Oui.” The doctor looked at me with a horrified look, moved his chair away, and said, “Oui? Oui?!!” Although I was like to think I am usually quick witted, this took a while to dawn. “Oh, my! You were asking me if I smoked and if I coughed and if I coughed blood, right?” “Yes, but of course.” “Well, of course I don’t smoke, I don’t cough blood and I don’t really even cough.” He had to hit the back button several times with such force I thought the screen was going to crack. When he went back and put “non” for all the answers, the color returned to his face and blushed all over mine. I assume I passed as he ushered me to another little waiting stall and told me to follow the directions on the wall.
There was a poster on the wall of a half naked man and a half naked woman, covering her breasts. So, I deduced I was at the X-ray part. But where is the paper gown? So I got undressed, covered my breasts like the picture, and waited. And waited. And waited even longer. Finally, the technician takes one look at me and pulls (what I was hoping was a paper gown) a rubber band from the back of the machine. “Pour votre chignon”, for my hair. Um, no thank you. I had my own hairbands adorning my wrists like tattoos, so I put my hair up and assumed he went to get a gown, but no. He was ready for the X-ray. Being asthmatic and quite familiar with the chest X-ray poses, I stood, he took the pictures, and then I went back to my stall to get dressed. They spent all this money on humongous bandaids for a pin prick, but decided to forgo the gowns. Hmmm…
I went to wait at my third station. At this point, Wade had been brought in and was making his rounds with no trouble. I was called back by another doctor, who gave me a verbal interview on the state of my health, my eating, exercising and sleeping habits. He wondered what I did in America, and what am I doing in Paris. I felt very bourgeois when I answered that I don’t work here but care for the house and my family and I exercise and go to church and museums. Without trying to sound snide, I really am enjoying this change in lifestyle!
I thought the conversation was going well but then he asked me to go take my shirt off and then the rest of the exam was with me sitting in my bra, him listening to my lungs and then asking me more questions that had absolutely nothing to do with my lungs. I know the Europeans are more lax about the human body and I know it was fine and routine, just odd. For me. Perhaps it is me who is odd?
So, lastly I get to go visit the frantic lady (who hadn’t calmed much in the two hours since I checked in) who got to screech my name a few more times and then stamp my papers and point at the door. I waited for Wade and we headed out, stifling our laughter…and a sneeze! As funny as this trip was, graces were abound~In the globally shared trepidation while waiting, the doctors’ and nurse’s demeanor, the comfort in knowing we are in a country with excellent health care. So things were a little different~odd, more to the point, but it is done. I will have a sticker declaring me healthy, and that was worth celebrating! We headed home the way we came, through the construction site (but by this time, the workers had called it a day) and back to the metro, where we ordered baguettes with cheese, a Coke and the obligatory éclair. À Notre santé~to our health!